DETROIT (AP) Cleveland manager Manny Acta watched his team pummel the Detroit Tigers once again - then sounded a note of caution.
''The championship goes through Detroit,'' Acta said. ''They beat us up pretty good last year, the whole division, and they're a very good ballclub. It's still very early.''
Michael Brantley hit a three-run homer after a Detroit error kept a first-inning rally going, and Johnny Damon added a two-run single and an impressive catch in left field to help Cleveland to a 9-6 victory over the Tigers on Wednesday night.
Casey Kotchman hit a two-run shot for the Indians, who improved to 5-0 against Detroit this season after finishing 15 games behind the AL Central champion Tigers last year.
Jeanmar Gomez (4-4) allowed six runs and seven hits in five innings for Cleveland, but four relievers held Detroit to one hit the rest of the way, with Chris Perez pitching the ninth for his 19th save in 20 chances.
''Our bullpen once again proved to be our strength, but our offense was big too today,'' Acta said.
The slumping, banged-up Tigers fell six games under .500 and 5 1/2 behind second-place Cleveland, which trails only the Chicago White Sox at the top of the division.
Miguel Cabrera and Don Kelly hit solo homers for the Tigers. Max Scherzer (5-4) allowed five earned runs in 4 1-3 innings - and three unearned runs in the first.
Brennan Boesch, Detroit's struggling right fielder, went hitless at the plate, but it was his dropped fly with two outs in the first that really cost the Tigers. Brantley hit a drive just inside the pole in right on the next pitch to give the Indians a 3-0 lead and extend his hitting streak to 14 games.
''We had a little miscue and we didn't pitch above it,'' Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. ''When you are going good, you make an error and the guy pops up the next pitch. When you are going bad, the guy hits a three-run homer on the next pitch.''
Damon, who had been on the paternity list to be with his wife and new twin daughters, was activated Wednesday. He robbed Prince Fielder of what might have been a homer in the second with a nice catch at the wall.
''That was a ball, when it first got up, I really had no idea how far it was going to go,'' Damon said. ''Fortunately, I got back and I was able to make a great play.''
After Kelly did homer in the third, Kotchman answered the following inning to make it 5-1.
Cabrera hit his 12th homer of the year in the fourth, but it was another solo shot. Jason Kipnis hit an RBI single in the fifth for the Indians, and Damon drove home two more runs later that inning with a bases-loaded single that made it 8-2 and chased Scherzer.
Damon also walked twice.
Detroit scored four runs in the fifth, including RBI doubles by Quintin Berry and Cabrera, and a run-scoring single by Fielder. The Cleveland bullpen retired the first 10 Tigers it faced and Perez finished the job.
Asdrubal Cabrera's RBI single in the sixth made it 9-6.
NOTES: Berry, Detroit's center fielder, made a superb diving catch of Brantley's drive in the ninth. ... Cleveland's Carlos Santana caught for the first time since returning from a concussion-related DL stint. ... Fielder extended his hitting streak to 13. ... The Indians optioned C Luke Carlin to Triple-A Columbus to make room for Damon. ... Detroit C Bryan Holaday hit a single in the fifth for his first major league hit. ... Cleveland will try for a three-game sweep Thursday, sending RHP Derek Lowe (7-3) to the mound against LHP Casey Crosby (0-1).